Barbara Hepworth is arguably the world’s most famous female sculptor so it’s a real treat to discover a new gallery celebrating her art and life .
Earlier this month I visited the Hepworth gallery in Wakefield, Yorkshire which features over 40 of her works.
Designed by David Chipperfield Architects, the gallery has just been shortlisted in the Stirling Prize for architecture.
To win the coveted award it will have to fend off the London 2012 Olympic Stadium, the Lyric Theatre in Belfast, and the Sainsbury Lab, to name just three of its competitors.
The Hepworth is impressive but it’s a surprisingly restrained building that doesn’t leap out and scream at you like most new galleries with high profile architects attached to them.
But the gallery’s dramatic setting on the River Calder almost overshadows the building with its torrents of water and boat yards next door, complete with street art – or should that be river art?
Inside the galleries Hepworth’s stunning abstract sculptures look great in their new home.
The gallery spaces play with natural light and perfect white spaces in a very clever way. Best of all, the art is presented in an accessible and fun way – and the presentation doesn’t reek of stuffy elitism.
There’s also an interesting display of Hepworth’s studio environment and her working methods which charts the creation of some of her monumental works from her later career.
The collection is well-curated and there is some great archive featuring Hepworth’s work in Cornwall at the Trewyn Studio where she moved with her husband and fellow artist Ben Nicholson in the 1940s.
My only criticism is that I felt that I didn’t get completely inside the skin of Barbara Hepworth as a person. I would have liked more insight into her early life growing up and studying art in Yorkshire.
When I got home I read about Hepworth’s early trips with her father to Yorkshire’s West Riding and the Whitby coast – and wondered how this might have affected her art and the shapes and forms in her work.
Perhaps I was comparing this exhibition too much to the recent Hockney show at London’s Royal Academy which was brimming with references to how Yorkshire’s landscapes had influenced the pop artist’s work.
Overall I was impressed by the gallery and its airy spaces.
There is also a decent collection of post-war British sculpture and painting as well as changing exhibitions of contemporary artists.
Currently a Richard Long exhibition is on display with some intriguing works including Cornish Slate Ellipse and A Line Made by Walking.
I’m looking forward to returning to see Hepworth’s Hospital Drawings which are on display between October 2012 and February 2013.
Finally, I should mention the small shop that has some cracking bargains in the book department.
Needless to say, I couldn’t resist!
Where to find it: Located by the River Calder on Thornes Lane on the edge of Wakefield city centre. Car parking located opposite.
The gallery is walking distance from Wakefield’s two railway stations.
Access: The Hepworth is fully accessible for disabled visitors.
Opening hours: Tuesday-Sundays from 10:00-17:00. Closed Mondays. There is free admission to the gallery. Shop and cafe available.
Tammy’s top tips
- Look out for special events, concerts, workshops and talks at the gallery. I’m looking forward to going back and trying my hand at the Hepworth plaster workshop!
- A morning trip to the gallery could be combined with an afternoon visit to the nearby Yorkshire Sculpture Park (or vice versa) which also has some outdoor Hepworth sculptures.
- If you’re travelling in a camper van be aware that the car park opposite the gallery has height restrictions and you’ll get stuck. I recommend parking on one of the streets nearby or the car park at the back of Ings Road.
- Another great place for art travellers is the Barbara Hepworth Museum and Gardens in St Ives, Cornwall. The museum is part of the Tate St Ives which also runs a Ben Nicholson walking tour of St Ives complete with an iPad commentary (you can hire the iPad).
- Wakefield is a former industrial city but there are some other interesting attractions including the Chantry Chapel (over the road from the Hepworth) – which is one of only three bridge chapels left in the UK.